Montana Farmers Are Trying Cover Crops - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Montana Farmers Are Trying Cover Crops

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BOZEMAN -

During a tough season, farmers in the mid-west are known to sew certain types of plants that help repair the soil for better years to come.

The cover crop trend is beginning to take seed in the Big Sky state as well.

Farmers plant cover crops when they aren't growing a cash crop to help improve the soil in their fields by holding in more moisture than they use, ringing in bigger yields for crops that wouldn't otherwise get enough moister.

Some crops considered cover crops are peas, lentils and beats, where wheat, hay and potatoes would be a farmer's cash crop.

Farmers don't make any money on cash crops because they leave them in the fields when they go to plant crops they sell.

Right now the most common practice in Montana is summer fallow where fields are purposely kept out of production to build up moisture and nutrients.

Perry Miller is a cropping system specialist at Montana State University.

He is currently studying how cash crops will do in Gallatin County.

"The way we've been working with cover crops is trying to break up the summer fallow period and get some plant interaction with that soil," said Miller.

Miller said cover crops are not that common here in southwest Montana mostly because of our climate.

"There is a richer cover crop experience in the mid-western areas where they have excess water and where they have more reliable rainfall in season," said Miller.

Bruce Wright is one of very few farmers who plants cover crops in his fields north of Bozeman.

He started using peas as a cover crop after the Natural Resources Conservation Service suggested it to him.

He said his fields are starting to do better after trying cover crops for six years.

"It does seem to provide some benefit to the next crop," said Wright. "We are looking forward to doing it some more."

Miller said he's found results don't come over night, but more long term.

It looks like there is a real positive long term story. And it's not just from our work here, there is a couple other sites in this broader region that have shown the same thing. Stick with it over a longer period of time, it does work.

Wright agrees.  He said after planting cover crops in his fields for six years, he is getting four to five more bushels an acre compared to fields that don't get cover crops.

Miller said he has been studying with peas as cover crops in Bozeman for about ten years and this is his second year using a mix of crops.

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